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Fairfield councilman dies after being shot

Police are searching for gunman who shot Matt Garcia, 22, outside a home in the Northern California city.

September 03, 2008|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A day after being shot outside a friend's house, a 22-year-old Fairfield city councilman died Tuesday after lingering on life support for much of the day as family and friends gathered to pay their last respects.

Councilman Matt Garcia, one of the youngest elected officials in the nation, was shot in the back of the head while talking with a friend in a normally peaceful neighborhood in this city of 105,000 along Interstate 80 about 40 miles southwest of Sacramento. Police launched an aggressive search for the gunman, who fled the scene in a mid-size sedan after firing several shots about 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Chief Kenton W. Rainey said it remained unclear whether Garcia was targeted or the victim of mistaken identity, or whether this was a random act of violence.

The gunman -- described as a 5-foot-9 male of medium build -- jumped out of a car about 50 yards from where Garcia stood in a driveway and fired numerous rounds before getting back in the sedan and racing off at a high speed, police said. The shell fragments were being analyzed by the state Department of Justice's Bureau of Forensic Services.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of the shooter.

Friends and colleagues gathered at the hospital Monday night. Fairfield Mayor Harry Price and others stayed late into the night while Garcia's parents and relatives were by his bedside.

Price said that by Tuesday morning, doctors at John Muir Medical Center in nearby Walnut Creek had concluded that Garcia had lost brain function.

The mayor and other bleary-eyed city officials returned to the medical center in the afternoon to say a prayerful goodbye to the colleague they described as energetic and brimming with promise.

"It's tragic, it's tragic," said Frank Kardos, a fellow councilman. He had so much to live for, and he was doing so much for the city."

A former prom king and student government leader who lived his whole life in Fairfield, Garcia was elected to the City Council in November at 21, defeating a two-term incumbent businessman despite being heavily outspent.

In interviews after his victory, Garcia repeated the vow he had made to a sixth-grade teacher: One day, he would become mayor of Fairfield.

Eager to reach that goal, he hit the ground running, making a name for himself by establishing a youth commission and helping the council negotiate $7 million in budget cuts without raising taxes or firing workers.

"Matt is one of those who can walk into any setting, whether a group of young people in a park or a senior center, and just light up the room," Price said. "He was blessed with an incredible smile, a sharp intellect and the ability to relate to all ages and all ethnic groups. He also had a clear understanding of the role one person can make in the lives of others."

Garcia, whose father escaped life in a gang to join a local ministry and raise a family in the working-class town, promised during his council campaign to champion anti-gang programs and youth services.

Rainey said Tuesday that it was uncertain whether the assailant was affiliated with a gang, adding simply, "Fairfield is not immune."


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